Support for the building of a cacao processing facility

Testimony for HB1598 on 2/11/2011 9:00:00 AM
Testimony for AGR 2/11/2011 9:00:00 AM HB1598
Conference room: 312
Testifier position: support
Testifier will be present: No
Submitted by: Nathan Sato
Organization: Malie Kai Chocolates
Address: 60 N. Beretania St. #1908 Honolulu, HI 96817
Phone: (808) 599-8600

I would like to voice my support for the building of a cacao processing facility on the island of Oahu. I believe cacao has the potential to be a "game-changer" for both Hawaiian agriculture and Hawaiian tourism. We know from participation in domestic and international food shows that Hawaii is capable of producing WORLD-CLASS chocolate. This was the opinion of executives from very prestigious chocolate companies (including Godiva, Vosges and Valrhona) who tried our Oahu-grown chocolate. Very few agricultural products have the cache of chocolate. There are legions of chocolate aficionados who follow chocolate as closely as wine connoisseurs study vintages and appellations. I can easily see in a few years new tourists coming to Hawaii for the first time who have no interest Hawaii’s traditional leisure activities – visitors whose only interest is in seeing how chocolate is grown and made.

Having talked with several small farmers on Oahu, we know that one of the main reasons they are not planting cacao is that there are no processing facilities here. The processing of cacao from pod to bar is a science and an art – and not something most farmers have any expertise in. It’s is very important that cacao processing be done correctly. If not, the result will be bad chocolate, and we will end up killing the industry in it’s infancy. Cacao, unlike commodity crops, has the ability to generate income for the farmer in several ways. The value of the crop on the cacao market is perhaps minimal compared to the value of the ag-tourism activities cacao farming will spawn. A two acre cacao farm may only produce 2,000 lbs of dry cacao/year with a value of maybe $10,000. But if the farmer were to give tours of his farm, sell the chocolate he produces along with souvenirs and refreshments the two acres of cacao might actually generate 20 or 30 times that amount of revenue.

We are fortunate that Hawaii is the only state that can grow cacao. We need to take advantage of this. If mainland Americans want to see a cacao farm they can go to Mexico, Central America, South America or Africa. These are all fairly daunting places for your average tourist. Visiting Hawaii is comparatively simple – no passport, visa, phrasebook or money changing required.

I suspect the cacao industry in Hawaii will grown on it’s own without government help, but it will be a very slow process. A cacao processing facility built by the state would be an enormous shot-in-the-arm for our nascent industry.

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